Thursday, March 28, 2013

Going Deep

Veggie Loaded Pasta e Fagioli Soup
With Easter three days away, the end of my Lenten vegetarianism is in sight! But there are still a few meatless meals in my path. After thirty-seven days of flesh-free soups, salads, and pastas, I'll admit I've been missing the illusive and simple depth of flavor that even just a little animal fat supplies. Suddenly lacking my go-to ingredients, I am marveling at how much richness a few ounces of bacon or a thin cut of steak can supply to an entire meal. Not that I want to dismiss veggies! I love them - the crunch, the unexpected texture, and necessary light notes are invaluable guests at the dinner table. With this soup, I was in search of ways to add that savory depth meat so easily provides and came up with spice and smoke. (One of my favorite additions to my vegan chili, for example, are chilis in adobo sauce.) This rich vegetarian twist on a Pasta e Fagioli Soup (literally "pasta and beans") is packed with protein and a variety of delicious veggies with a subtly spicy kick. I topped it with homemade toasted garlic croutons, but any good quality bread is the perfect finish for this richly satisfying soup.

- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
- 2 stalked celery, trimmed and diced
- 1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 c. dry red wine
- 6 c. vegetable broth
- 1 14.5 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 sprig fresh basil with leaves
- 1 Parmesan rind
- 1 small bunch kale, stems removed, leaves torn into small pieces
- 3/4 c. dried ditalini (or similar) pasta
- 2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- croutons, bread, and grated Parmesan for serving

Heat olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium. Add diced onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until it becomes soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add chopped carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until all the vegetables soften. Increase heat to medium-high and add paprika and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Add red wine and tomato paste. Cook for one minute. Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, Parmesan rind, vegetable broth, beans, and basil leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Once soup reaches a boil, cover tightly, and decrease heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove lid from soup pot and discard bay leaves and basil leaves. Add dried pasta, fresh parsley, and kale to the soup. Bring soup to a boil and cook until the pasta becomes tender and kale is bright green, about 8-10 minutes. Remove soup from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, topping with grated Parmesan, croutons, and slices of crusty bread. Yummy!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Meanwhile . . . Back at the Ranch

Huevos Rancheros for Two
The chickens are working overtime! With the first whispers of spring in the air . . . we have a dozen fresh eggs coming our way every few days. I put this quick and delicious dinner for two utilizing a number of leftovers (vegetarian chili and guacamole) and on-hand items. The only ingredient that took me down the block to the store was for a can of salsa ranchera (smokey, tangy, and a little sour), but your favorite salsa will do just fine. This is a great family-friendly meal because it's so easy to modify to suit different pallets and appetites. (I like my egg yolks bright and runny, Matt likes them cooked through. I'm full after a half portion - a single tortilla and egg. He needs the full order.) Spicy, mild, vegetarian, or meat . . . the sky is the limit! This batch was made for two hungry diners, but double or triple it with ease for larger groups.

- 4 small corn tortillas
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 oz. shredded pepper jack cheese
- crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 c. leftover chili (canned is fine, whatever you like)
- 1 small can salsa ranchera (I used Herdez)
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 4 eggs
- salt and pepper
- guacamole, pickled jalapeño peppers, hot sauce for topping

Heat oven to 375˚ F. While oven is coming to temperature, heat vegetable oil in a small non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook tortillas one at a time - about 15 seconds per side- until they are softened slightly and brown bubbles appear. Drain tortillas on paper towel-lined plate and blot out excess oil.

Spray a 13x9" baking dish with cooking oil and begin assembly.

Set two tortillas side by side in the baking dish. Top each with half the chili. Spread each with about a tablespoonful of salsa ranchera, add a dollop of crème fraîche, and then sprinkle each with a quarter of the grated cheese. Top each with another tortilla. Spoon one more tablespoonful of salsa on top on the tortilla, sprinkle each with half of the remaining cheese, and then top each with half the green onions.

Bake in oven for about 20 minutes until the chili is heated through and the cheese is melted and slightly bubbly. In the last few minutes of cooking time, prepare eggs as desired - I suggest fried or poached.

Remove cooked tortillas from oven and plate. Dollop each with guacamole, additional crème fraîche, salsa, and other desired toppings. Add cooked eggs on top. Eat! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Drop It Like It's Hot

What the Heck Do I Do With All This Leftover Fried Rice? Egg Drop Soup With Leeks and Greens!
It's been a long time since I have written. Not that I haven't been cooking . . . but in the midst of directing Three Sisters, over a full load of classes, and the limitations of my annual Lenten vegetarianism, I've been relying on old favorite recipes rather than much experimentation. Well, I'm back. The show is closed, spring is right around the corner, and kitchen creativity is beckoning me! This first recipe since my blog-sabbatical is based on one of my favorite culinary challenges: leftovers. Tonight's culprit: Fried rice. We've all had white take-out containers taking up precious refrigerator space. I made an absolutely lovely batch of Bon Appétit's Shrimp Fried Rice for last Thursday's dinner with my gluten-free friend, Arin. The rice was a hit, but even three hungry people couldn't finish off the generously portioned recipe. Since Friday morning the rice-filled Pyrex has been staring back at me every time I've opened the refrigerator. Leftover rice. I've put it into burritos before or just resigned myself to eating it no matter how increasingly dry and unappetizing it became. Thankfully, in this instance, inspiration hit . . . egg drop soup! This hearty, easy, and quick protein-packed soup is a standby in my house. Thanks to our own eager flock of lovely chickens, we always have an abundance of fresh eggs and I have made multiple variations on this recipe - usually with noodles. This batch was whipped up in about twenty minutes. I used some mustard greens, but any hearty bitter green will do (kale, chard, whatever). I topped my sweetie's portion with a little shredded chicken breast, but left mine vegetarian (although it did spice it up with a generous Sriracha topping).

- 2 c. leftover fried rice 
- 6 c. vegetable stock
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 4 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sesame oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 leeks, trimmed, rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise
- salt and pepper
- 1 bunch mustard greens (or other bitter greens), stems removed and roughly chopped
- 4 eggs
-  2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise

It certainly was a tasty batch of shrimp fried rice, but after we had picked out all the shrimp . . . it was well . . . just rice.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce-pan, heat olive oil over medium-high. Add sliced leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft, sweet, and begin to turn translucent. Season lightly with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add vegetable or chicken stock and turn heat up to high.

When the broth is brought to a boil, add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sherry, sesame oil, and leftover rice. Lower heat to a simmer and add torn greens. Cover and simmer 3-5 minutes until the greens and softened and bright green. Remove lid and raise heat back up to medium-high so that broth comes to a boil.

Carefully crack eggs into soup and let boil 3-4 minutes until eggs just begin to set. Carefully stir broth mixture so that whites and yolks are drawn into long threads through the broth. Remove from heat. Season to taste with additional salt or soy sauce. Ladle soup into bowls and top each with several drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sliced green onions. Enjoy!